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Book Review: ‘Johnny Depp: A Kind of Illusion’ By Denis Meikle

In Denis Meikle’s fully revised and updated bestselling biography, “Johnny Depp: A Kind of Illusion,” the film historian charts the heartthrob’s life thus far. Every aspect of Depp’s past is discussed, from his modest beginnings growing up in Kentucky to his teen idol success on “21 Jump Street” to his decades-long movie career. Although he touches on Depp’s personal life outside the movies, including romances with former flames Winona Ryder and Kate Moss and current love Vanessa Paradis, the 483-page biography centers around the star’s movie and television roles.

In spite of the criticism of this biography in regards to inaccuracies — i.e. Meikle states Leonardo DiCaprio won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” when those awards actually went to Tommy Lee Jones for his work in “The Fugitive” — the bestselling book is thorough and provides an interesting view of an actor known for being eccentric yet mysterious and fascinating. Not to mention a turbo hottie who has risen from the ranks of “Teen Beat” heartthrob to being “People” magazine’s 2009 Sexiest Man Alive.

I always enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at actors, human beings the public experiences through a veil with their roles in television or film, interviews on TV or from tabloid gossip in the likes of “Star” and “US Weekly.” I’m never going to meet Johnny Depp, let alone be friends with him, so my only way of coming close to knowing what he’s like is reading a biography.

With that in mind, “Johnny Depp: A Kind of Illusion” doesn’t know if it wants to be a Johnny Depp biography or a movie critics rantings. Meikle dabbles in Depp’s love life and personal struggles while centering around a history of cinema using a timeline of the star’s films. It is borderline wordy and off-topic but adds to Johnny Depp: The Man and Movie Star.

It’s not that I wanted or even expected gossip column worthy trash but I did want to read about Johnny Depp and his roles while getting inside his mind. Instead Meikle focuses on Depp’s roles and critiques of his movies by magazine and newspaper film critics while giving his own criticism in the process, always providing the last word. While it’s interesting to see Depp as movie star, on set and morphing into such iconic characters as Gilbert Grape, Raoul Duke, Edward Scissorhands, Jack Sparrow and George Jung, the biography focused too much on the movies and how the basis for each film was devised and how it added to cinema while focusing too little on Depp.

It reminded me of the Earth’s Children series by Jean Auel and her overly extensive research. While very well scrutinized and scholarly, which should be praised, it’s better to get to the point, the point being what the reader is truly interested in — i.e. the picture on front of the book. It’s of Johnny Depp, not a film projector. If you wanted to write a book on Depp’s films, which is obvious, you should have focused only on that and called it “Johnny Depp: How His Films Contributed to Cinema. At various points reading this biography, I became lost and forgot if I was in a history class for movie snobs or if I was reading a Johnny Depp biography.

With that said, I enjoyed the book simply because I enjoy Depp. He’s an unconventional yet extremely talented actor in a sea of stereotypical movie-stars known more for looks than God-given talent. There are two types of actors. Those you fall in love with over a role, like lusting over Jon Hamm as Don Draper in “Mad Men.” Three piece suit, tumbler glass in hand, cigar dangling from his lips. Then there are actors you fall in love not over a role but simply over them. Therein lies household heartthrob Johnny Depp.

Covering the life of an A-list movie star like Depp is difficult, so I praise Meikle for his efforts to cover all the bases. However, it loitered at some bases (Depp’s movies) and raced past others (Depp’s personal life). If you are looking for a focused look of Depp in and outside his movies, you should find another book. While the length of the book provides enough space for this, it is trivial in comparison to the real focus of the biography.

If you are interested in a focused illustration of his movies and their impact on the history of film, this is the book for you. — Kate Vendetta